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Warrick is back, with dreams of Desmond Howard

Associated Press

Kirkland, Wash. — Excuse Peter Warrick if he were to become an NFL Films buff over the next week.

Or if he holes up in the Seahawks' suburban Detroit hotel to replay the 1997 Super Bowl over and over. Or suddenly started sporting a Packers jersey, No. 81.

Warrick has good reason to be thinking of Desmond Howard.

Nine years ago, Howard became the first special teamer to win the Super Bowl MVP award. He returned a kickoff 99 yards and equaled a Super Bowl record with 244 yards on punt and kick returns during Green Bay's 35-21 win over New England — now-Seattle coach Mike Holmgren's first and only Super Bowl victory.

Forgotten after Cincinnati cut its fourth-overall pick from 2000 on Sept. 1, Warrick was reminded Wednesday he now has something in common with Howard: He's a punt returner in the Super Bowl.

"Exactly," Warrick said, smiling slightly and nodding his head. "That's what I'm talking about."

Seahawks special teams coach Bob Casullo said he is "assuming" Warrick will be back fielding punts for the second consecutive game, when the Seahawks take on the Pittsburgh Steelers on Feb 5. Casullo did say Warrick is still splitting practice time at the position with Jimmy Williams.

But Warrick said coaches have told him the job is his.

He had not returned a punt in 17 weeks, had barely played in 13 games this season and was inactive for the playoff opener before he replaced Williams in last Sunday's NFC championship.

"It was cool. It'd been a long time, man," Warrick said.

Williams, signed in Week 3, was the punt returner for 14 regular-season games and the divisional-round win over Washington in which he fumbled twice.

Enter Warrick. Remember him?

Cincinnati does. He began his NFL career in 2000 as the first Bengals rookie to lead the team in catches since 1973 — and the first player in team history to score receiving, rushing and on a return in the same season.

The next three years brought 70, 53 and 79-catch seasons — good, but not the game-breaking, spectacular shows Warrick put on as a two-time consensus All-America and Florida State's career receiving leader in yards and touchdowns.

He then fell out of favor with new Bengals coach Marvin Lewis in 2004 while rehabilitating his knee from arthroscopic surgery. In a game last September against the Jets, he slightly fractured a shin bone. Two weeks later, he aggravated the break. He tried to play in another game, in October, and then went on the season-ending injured reserve list.

This preseason with the Bengals, Warrick was faced with either a pay cut or a release. He asked to be cut and got his wish at the end of training camp. He flew first — and last — to Seattle, where the Seahawks signed him for one season and a $900,000 base salary.

Coach Mike Holmgren has said Warrick looked bothered by the leg early on and only recently has looked comfortable running. Sunday, he returned two punts for just 7 yards and made fair catches on two others. But more important for Seattle, he didn't fumble.

"I wanted to make some plays," he said. "But I wanted to be smart, too."

Casullo praised Warrick for staying away from many of the erratic punts of Carolina's Jason Baker, who averaged just 34.7 gross yards on seven boots.

"Basically, we said, 'Be smart. Be cautious,"' Casullo said.

If the Seahawks tell him the same in the Super Bowl, Warrick may be less eager to comply.

With the entire world soon to be watching him in his sport's ultimate game, Warrick is thinking of Howard. That means he is thinking of potentially adding a zero to his current, $900,000 paycheck.

Howard parlayed his Super Bowl MVP into a four-year, $12 million contract with Oakland in 1997. But the Raiders ended up cutting the ineffective Howard with two years left on the deal.

So what. That's still two years more than Warrick has on any contract right now.

So don't think he doesn't know the career-resuscitating opportunity that awaits him in Detroit.

"This is the big one, man," Warrick said.

"It's the Super Bowl. Anything can happen."

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